Ever had a hankering to travel back to the 1850s? Well, there’s good news: those dusty days of yore are only as far as Justine’s Brasserie on East Fifth – in a manner of speaking, anyway.
Sharing a lot with the beloved French eatery is Lumiere Tintype, an unassuming mobile mini-studio where guests can sit for old-fashioned portraits developed using 19th century techniques.
“I’m really surprised about how many people ask to be shot naked.”
Adrian Whipp and his wife, Loren Doyen, founded the studio in their home in July 2013 and soon realized they needed to introduce it to a wider audience; luckily, the cozy French charm of Justine’s has provided the perfect setting. These days, to capture a romantic evening for posterity in a unique and beautiful way, there’s no need to wander any farther than the edge of the restaurant’s lawn.
Adrian grew up in England and studied photography at the University of Leeds in the UK before moving to Austin seven years ago. Although he says tintype photography isn’t necessarily a rarity in his homeland, he doesn’t know of any walk-up studios that can complete the process as quickly as his can. “I do have friends doing incredibly creative things back home,” he says. “That was a big inspiration to start the tintype business.”
Lumiere means "light" in French, and the end result of a photo developed onto metal is called a tintype. Adrian then refers to the act of having a portrait produced in this style as "getting tintyped."
Adrian built the mobile studio with the help of local custom homebuilder Bo Bezdek. The entire process from shooting to varnishing can be completed in under an hour.
The camera currently used in the studio is from the 1970s.
The duo also use cameras that are more than 120 years old.
As for the studio, Adrian built it himself with the help of local custom homebuilder Bo Bezdek. In it, the entire process from shooting to varnishing can be completed in just under an hour. The tiny trailer acts as a time machine in more ways than one: with previous tintypes covering the walls and dusty stacks of books and vintage cameras tastefully arranged around the studio, the experience of having a portrait taken offers a momentary step back in time, adding to the ambiance throughout the process.
“There are parallels between the 1850s and the early 2000s,” he says. “Back then, photography was just exploding. It was accessible, it was cheap. In the past 10, 15 years, you see digital photography doing the same thing.”
While the camera currently used in the studio is from the 1970s, the duo also uses cameras and lenses that are more than 120 years old. For those who wonder why all those old sepia-toned photos of our ancestors show stone-faced subjects, the answer reveals itself while sitting in the mini-studio: it would be rather difficult, actually, to sit perfectly still and hold a smile through the slow shutter speeds required by the decades-old cameras. Instamatic? Not so much. But really, that’s part of the charm.
Once the muscle-stiffening task of posing for a 19th century portrait is complete, the tintype is taken into the tiny darkroom behind a door at one end of the trailer and developed as the scent of lavender varnish fills the trailer.
“The varnish is what keeps it pretty tough, for hundreds of years hopefully,” Adrian explains.
Austin, he says, is the perfect place for Lumiere Tintype because of the city’s air of creativity and desire for “something different.” “I’m really surprised about how many people ask to be shot naked,” Adrian admits. “That happens more than I thought it would, especially after 12 when people have had a few cocktails.”
Even though they’ve made a name for themselves in Austin, Adrian and Loren plan to take the mobile studio on road trips in true 19th century style: “I intentionally made it a mobile business so that if we wanted to go on a road trip we could pick up and take it and do it in another town, which is really how it would have been done in the 1800s,” he explains.
Right now, Lumiere Tintype doesn’t travel too far, mostly because of the “terrible MPG” they get while towing it, but they have a long-term plan to tour the country in the future. In the meantime, while they stay put, they’re being given plenty of opportunities to keep it weird.
Writing: Brooke Blanton
Photography & Video: Chris Perez
Video Editing: Brooke Blanton
4710 E 5th St
Austin, TX 78702
The studio is open for walk-ins from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. For customers bringing along pets, babies, motorcycles or anything else unexpected or difficult to photograph, daytime appointments are recommended outside normal operating hours.
This article originally published in The Balance Issue of Citygram Austin Magazine [May/June 2014].
Download a FREE issue of Citygram Austin magazine designed for your smartphone or tablet. Search “Citygram” in your App Store.